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The overshadowed LGBT fight for ‘normality’

Upcoming doc examines protests against the American Psychological Association

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Barbara Gittings, Frank Kameny and John Fryer, who’s in disguise.

For decades, the American Psychological Association (APA) labeled homosexuality a mental illness, thereby justifying the criminalization of homosexuality and permitting discriminatory practices against gay men and lesbians by government agencies, businesses, schools and churches repulsed by those branded “sick” and “perverted.”

But homosexuality was also believed to be a deviant behavioral choice that could be “cured” through medical and psychological treatments such as electroshock, chemical castration, ice pick lobotomies or aversion “therapy” akin to the torture in “A Clockwork Orange.”

Not all mental health professionals thought gay people were degenerates. In 1953, with Republican Sen. Joe McCarthy in his prime demagogically chasing down and destroying communists (the “Red Scare”) and homosexuals (the “Lavender Scare”), Evelyn Hooker, Ph.D., sought funding from the National Institute of Mental Health to research “normal homosexuals,” prompted by her close friendship with a former UCLA student, Sam From. Through him, she gained access to LA’s secret gay subculture and volunteers from the Mattachine Society. Hooker’s presentation at the APA’s annual convention in 1956 was groundbreaking— there was no scientific data on gay people who were not incarcerated or in mental wards. The bottom line result: expert clinicians could not distinguish between gay men and straight men, findings that were soon validated by other researchers.

But the APA did not remove homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual III (DSM) until 1973. “Cured,” an in-production documentary directed by award-winning filmmakers Patrick Sammon and Bennett Singer, details the story of how LGBT activists joined forces with other minority groups and allies to take on the psychiatric establishment in the late 1960s and early 1970s to change the DSM.

As befitted the time of upheaval with students protesting the war in Vietnam and civil rights groups morphing into liberation movements, the fights against the APA were not quiet. One of the first demonstrations was staged in San Francisco by 20 members of the Gay Liberation Front and Women’s Liberation Movements. “It put the psychiatrists on notice,” Sammon said, “that gays and lesbians were fighting back. It really was the start of the outside activism that put attention and pressure on this issue.”

From California, protests spread to other cities, like Chicago and New York. “The interesting thing about this is there was no coordinated strategy, in terms of one person deciding what would happen. It was a grassroots effort,” Sammon. “That was an important piece of the equation that we discovered during the research process.”

But there were pioneering leaders with vision from Barbara Gittings of the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, Frank Kameny, co-founder with Jack Nichols of the Washington, D.C. branch of the Mattachine Society, and Morris Kight and Don Kilhefner, co-founders of the Gay Liberation Front/LA, who disrupted APA conferences by stealing the emcee’s microphones and challenging the participants. In 1972, gay psychiatrist Dr. John Fryer had enough and spoke out—albeit with his face disguised in a mask and voice distorted over the microphone. Nonetheless, “Dr. Henry Anonymous,” as he presented himself, gave such as impactful speech, history has often credited him with getting homosexuality de- listed from the DSM in 1973.

Sammon believes that much of the progress in the struggle for LGBT rights—for social, legal, and political equality—was made possible by this victory in 1973 over the APA. While still largely overlooked in LGBT history, the campaign challenging the APA represents a remarkable story of diligence and courage in the face of powerful institutional resistance.

Singer also notes that “Cured” looks at how the modern LGBT rights movement continued after Stonewall. “How did the spark that was ignited at Stonewall and other uprisings around the country get channeled? What was the next stage of activism?”

Sammon hopes older LGBT audiences will see an accurate reflection of their lived experiences, of the pain caused by the message from scientific and medical institutions that they were sick. “If from the age of 12 or 13,” he told the Los Angeles Blade in a June 19 interview, “everything you read or everything you’re told is that you’re mentally ill, that starts to impact you. That starts to affect your self-esteem. It causes internalized homophobia.”

In the years since, leading organizations representing scientists and physicians have uniformly denounced treatments intended to change a patient’s sexual orientation or gender identity. More recent progress on this front includes the decision by the World Health Organization to remove gender incongruence from the mental disorders listed in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD), the eleventh revision of which was released June 18.

However, despite this, disproven pseudo-scientific ideas about the mental health of LGBT people are still used to support so- called “conversion” or “reparative therapy,” religious-based counseling and other harmful sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE).

The campaign against the label of mental illness chronicled in “Cured” is not “a relic from history,” Singer said. “People are still clinging to this junk science that’s being held up to give LGBTQ people this bogus sense that they can change, that they should change, and that homosexuality is a choice.”

Sammon agreed: “The roots of this mental illness label are ideas that are still parroted by people who believe in conversion therapy,” he said. “Hopefully, this film—while not specifically about that issue [of conversion therapy]—can help illuminate that ongoing discussion, while weakening this argument that LGBT people have chosen to be the way that they are.”

“There’s still a learning curve when it comes to these fundamental issues,” Singer said. “We’re seeing it with the attempt to roll back the Pentagon’s policy on trans service members, with ongoing opposition to marriage, with bathroom bills…many of these positions come from prejudice based on junk science and religious belief.”

“Cured” is a warning that the fight for equality is ongoing—that progress can be ephemeral. It is also an homage to the activists who sacrificed much but recognized the importance of the fight.

“I hope older audiences, through the film, will receive some appreciation for the work they did to get us to the point where we are now,” Sammon said. “There are so many people who helped in so many ways, and this is a way to honor them.”

Charles Francis, president of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., told the LA Blade that they decided to sign on as financial sponsors of “Cured” because the film debunks the myth that the LGBT community has won the battle against those who wish to call them mentally ill.

“It’s a myth,” Francis said, “because not only was it hell to accomplish this thing [striking homosexuality from the DSM], with real community activism, but even today the debate is not over. Our enemies are making the case they we are somehow spiritually or psychologically broken, even now in 2018.” At the Mattachine Society, Francis is engaged in historical research about the institutionalization of LGBT people in places like St. Elizabeth’s hospital in Washington, DC where the APA’s mental illness label and legislation like the District’s Sexual Psychopath Act of 1948, resulted in people being subjected to “treatments” that included icepick lobotomies, hysterectomies, and castration.

Even today, Francis warned, mythical ideas about LGBT mental illness have lead to young LGBTQ people being put in harm’s way. Among the most troubling recent examples are reports of young people who have died as a result of abuse incurred at residential programs associated with the billion dollar “troubled teen industry”—a sexual orientation change efforts into which youth are sometimes enrolled by their parents.

“This movie is not just for gay history geeks,” Francis said. “I think all activists, all audiences, all people concerned with the Trump-Pence Administration would do well to see this movie and to see how old school community activism works. Getting out into the streets, into the communities, convincing people, making the arguments… this is an early example of passionate, community-based activism. I think it’s a movie for everybody, especially in these challenging times.”

After its 1973 decision, the APA came out against discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment (1988) and in the armed forces (1990). Then, in 1998, the organization issued statements that opposed psychiatric treatments that (1) are based on the view of homosexuality as a mental disorder, and (2) are administered to “change” the patient’s sexual orientation.

The mainstream medical establishment is now allied with efforts to protect young LGBT people from conversion therapy, which marks a significant step forward. Interestingly, science and medicine have recently been harnessed to oppose these practices from a different angle.

A bill spearheaded by Equality California and introduced by out Assembly member Evan Low would include, among the business practices outlawed under California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act, the sale of therapies that constitute sexual orientation change efforts because research indicates they are ineffective.

“The bill does one thing and one thing only;” said Low, in a press release, “it declares conversion therapy (for money) for what is, a fraudulent practice.

The directors hope to release “Cured” in 2019— the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

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Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards vetoes trans youth sports bill

Discrimination is not a Louisiana value, and this bill was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana

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Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D) (Official state portrait)

BATON ROUGE – Louisiana’s Democratic John Bel Edwards announced Tuesday that he has vetoed a measure that would have barred trans girls and women from participating on athletic teams or in sporting events designated for girls or women at elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools. 

The measure, Senate Bill 156 authored by Sen. Beth Mizell titled the ‘the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,’ in the Governor’s eyes, “was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana,” Edwards said in his veto statement;

“As I have said repeatedly when asked about this bill, discrimination is not a Louisiana value, and this bill was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana. Even the author of the bill acknowledged throughout the legislative session that there wasn’t a single case where this was an issue. 

Further, it would make life more difficult for transgender children, who are some of the most vulnerable Louisianans when it comes to issues of mental health. We should be looking for more ways to unite rather than divide our citizens. And while there is no issue to be solved by this bill, it does present real problems in that it makes it more likely that NCAA and professional championships, like the 2022 Final Four, would not happen in our state. For these and for other reasons, I have vetoed the bill.”

The Baton Rouge Advocate newspaper’s State House reporter, Blake Paterson, noted that [the law] would have required athletic teams or sporting events for women at public institutions be composed only of “biological females,” or those who presumably were listed as female on their birth certificates.

The measure won Senate approval 29-6 and cleared the House 78-19. Those margins are wide enough to override a governor’s veto, though it’s unclear whether lawmakers will return to Baton Rouge to do so.

 

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Anti-LGBTQ religious extremist celebrates death at Wilton Manors Pride

Mehta points out this type of rhetoric is quite likely to inspire violence against the LGBTQ community by one of Shelley’s followers

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Screenshot vis Twitter

HURST, Tx. – The pastor of a fundamentalist Baptist Church in this suburban Fort Worth, Texas city took to his pulpit to celebrate the death of an attendee at the Wilton Manors, Florida Pride parade this past weekend.

Pastor Jonathan Shelley, whose church is affiliated with infamous “death to gays” Pastor Steven Anderson in Phoenix, Arizona is quoted by Patheos writer and progressive blogger Hemant Mehta saying; […]”I hope they all die! I would love it if every fag would die right now.” […]

Mehta, who runs the heavily trafficked The Friendly Atheist, also noted that Shelley told his congregants; “And, you know, it’s great when trucks accidentally go through those, you know, parades. I think only one person died. So hopefully we can hope for more in the future.”

Mehta noted that the video of Shelley’s hate-filled remarks on this and other anti-LGBTQ vitriol is still accessible on Shelley’s YouTube Channel. He also points out this type of rhetoric is quite likely to inspire violence against the LGBTQ community by one of Shelley’s followers.

The Blade has reached out to YouTube Tuesday for comment but has yet to receive a response.

Editor’s note; The language used in the video in the embedded tweet below is uncensored hate speech:

In a related update from the Daily Beast, Fred Johnson Jr., who was named by Wilton Manors police as the driver of the vehicle that veered out of control killing one person and injuring two others at Saturday’s Stonewall Pride Parade has offered his “sincere regrets to all those who were impacted by this tragic event.”

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Vigil held after Wilton Manors Pride parade accident

Fort Lauderdale mayor expressed ‘regret’ over initial terrorism claim

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A vigil in the wake of the accident at the Stonewall Pride Parade took place at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on June 20, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — More than 100 people on Sunday attended a prayer vigil in the wake of an accident at a Wilton Manors Pride parade that left one person dead and another injured.

The vigil took place at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale.

Clergy joined activists and local officials at a vigil at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on June 20, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

A 77-year-old man who was driving a pickup truck struck two men near the Stonewall Pride Parade’s staging area shortly before 7 p.m. on Saturday. One of the victims died a short time later at a Fort Lauderdale hospital.

The pickup truck narrowly missed U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who was in a convertible participating in the parade, and Florida Congressman Ted Deutch.

The driver of the pickup truck and the two men he hit are members of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus. The Fort Lauderdale Police Department on Sunday described the incident as a “fatal traffic crash” and not a terrorism incident as Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis initially claimed.

“As we were about to begin the parade, this pickup truck, this jacked up white pickup truck, dashed across, breaking through the line, hitting people, all of us that were there could not believe our eyes,” said Trantalis as he spoke at the vigil.

Trantalis noted the pickup truck nearly hit Wasserman Schultz. He also referenced the arrest of a 20-year-old supporter of former President Trump earlier in the week after he allegedly vandalized a Pride flag mural that had been painted in an intersection in Delray Beach, which is roughly 30 miles north of Fort Lauderdale.

“I immediately knew that something terrible was happening,” said Trantalis, referring to the Stonewall Pride Parade accident. “My visceral reaction was that we were being attacked. Why not? Why not feel that way?”

“I guess I should watch to make sure there are no reporters standing by when I have those feelings, but that was my first reaction and I regret the fact that I said it was a terrorist attack because we found out that it was not, but I don’t regret my feelings,” he added. “But I don’t regret that I felt terrorized by someone who plowed through the crowd inches away from the congresswoman and the congressman, myself and others.”

Trantalis also told vigil attendees that “I guess we forgive” the pickup truck driver.

“But I regret that his consequences resulted in the death of an individual who was innocent and who was there to have a good time, like the rest of us, and I regret there is a man who is in serious condition … fighting for his life and there,” added Trantalis.

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